Exclusive: The emperor is not wearing any clothes
In early 1994, I sat through an hour-long presentation given by someone brought in by the Liverpool Daily Post to talk to journalists about Total Quality Management.
Trinity Newspapers, who owned the paper, felt it was important for us to understand that we were part of a Grand Plan. That, previously unknown to us, there was a proven management theory at work. And we few were in the vanguard of progress.
Under Total Quality Management, we wondered, were we to be empowered? Could we make our voices heard by senior management on issues like pay, RSI (then very much the buzz word), and the total lack of adequate car parking for staff?
Sadly, the speaker knew nothing of these things. He was an independent, self-styled expert in colour printing.
What we were about to do, he said, was bring a new world to the people of Liverpool, the Wirral, Cheshire and North and Mid Wales. It was a world in which “their” daily newspaper was now in colour.
In groups of about a dozen, we were ushered into a “training room” – the existence of which was a surprise to me as I had only worked there for two years.
The expert – let us call him Cuthbert – told us subs how the subtle use of certain colours in 15 per cent tint boxes would make the reader feel calm (blue) or vibrant (yellow).
Now we could use big photographs to make an impression. The Derek Hatton every Scouser knew was one of sharply-cut designer suits in specific shades of blue. These were the blues we could show our readers, along with the vivid purple of the Princess of Wales’ dresses.
Suddenly, new technology was at our disposal, and our photographers, picture editors, page designers and printers could use it to create an improved product. How could circulation not be boosted?
Surely, this was the age of the local newspaper.
A great many of our readers were Liverpool fans. From now on, if Ian Rush scored a memorable goal in a night game, when our readers ate their breakfasts the following morning they could read a report accompanied by a full-colour photograph of the goal.
It was an exciting time to be a journalist. Not just for the reporter sat in the Anfield press box, but the copy sub who would handle the report 45 minutes later.
The pay issues could wait.
We would carry on parking on double-yellow lines outside the office, hoping that the local traffic wardens would continue their time-honoured practice of looking the other way.
We would forget about RSI. If the day came when we needed to ask our colleague on the next table where he bought his wrist splints … no, it might not come. And if it did, we would hold our tongue when our “Line Manager” (a newly-discovered TQM term) - who expected us to do 20 per cent more work than a year ago with one fewer person on the desk - said: “Why didn’t you read that leaflet pinned next to the vending machine about taking regular screen breaks?”
Several weeks later I was walking through the city centre at lunch time, and passed an Internet Café.
When I walked through the doors, the internet was a word. No-one in my family had heard of it. I asked an assistant to show me what it was all about.
Two hours later, when I sat back down at my desk, I knew what I had seen would kill off the newspaper industry before I retired.
The Daily Post did increase its circulation very slightly over the next year.
In a city of nearly half a million it now sells around 8,000 copies a day. It does not publish on a Saturday.
I suspect that current editor Mark Thomas, and most other regional newspaper editors, have this site in their bookmarks.
What will Mark have read this week?
I’m guessing the story “Perch quits as Leicester Mercury editor”, revealing:
“[Editor Keith Perch’s] departure comes shortly after a management shake-up which saw new publishers appointed at the group’s four biggest centres – Leicester, Bristol, Nottingham and Hull.
Hull Daily Mail editor John Meehan also stood down following the restructure which saw the publishers take on overall responsibility for their respective daily titles.”
Did managers at Trinity, and the other newspaper groups, read “Lincolnshire title’s last daily edition hits streets”?
The Echo’s circulation was 17,000 (yes, Mark, more than twice that of the LDP). Acting editor Steven Fletcher says he admits many readers have written to complain that the 117-year-old publication has been killed off. “But I am confident we’ll give them a weekly paper crammed with great content that they will keep coming back to.”
Sorry, Steven, I doubt the good people of Lincolnshire will buy either that theory or your newspaper.
At 17,000 daily sales, six days a week, you were selling 102,000 copies per week.
What’s your new model, selling a weekly Echo to 100,000 people? Good luck.
At least Cuthbert had the excuse that he’d never heard of the internet…
* Andy Morris is a former UK-based journalist. He does not expect to be re-employed by the Liverpool Daily Post.